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Real-time study provides insight into human pain process

Observation of the brain's biochemical response to chronic pain is enabling the natural painkilling mechanisms of the body to be understood in greater detail.

Simon Frantz(simonfrantz@hotmail.com)

LONDON Pain is one of those things we each experience differently. Now, by monitoring chemical activity in the brains of human volunteers subjected to sustained pain, researchers are closer to unravelling the mysteries of the body's natural painkiller system and why we each feel pain differently.

Jon-Kar Zubieta and colleagues from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, show in 13 July Science, that a wide range of regions in the brain are active when the body responds to pain. Further, mu-opioid receptors — which attenuate the spread of pain messages in the brain when naturally occurring (endogenous) opioids bind to them — play a central role in an individual's experience of pain.

The researchers argue that their findings may lead to a greater understanding of chronic pain and its treatment, something that will become increasingly important as the population ages and more people suffer from...

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